It struck in the pre-dawn darkness, coming like a freight train rumbling through the night. The house began to shake, the power went out and things began to fall off shelves. And when daylight came, people started assessing the damage for insurance claims. Five years later, some of those claims are still “going through the system”, testing the sanity of the claimants and giving insurance companies and the Earthquake Commission a rap that looks more ridiculous with every day that passes.
Five years after that cold September night was rent by a magnitude 7.1, there are still pockets of people dotted all over Christchurch, still trying to get their insurance companies to cough up. Some of them are elderly people in their late 70’s and early 80’s with possibly only a few years left on the clock. Some of them have claims for each of the magnitude 6.0+ events still to be processed. They did as they were told. They filed claims after each significant event. They got assessors out to have a look at what they were dealing with. And they waited. And they had some phone calls. And they waited some more. And they might have filed random forms in the hope that it would some how speed things along. And then they waited some more. Some of them got fixed. And some are still waiting five years after the first significant quake.
In Australia after the 2011 Toowoomba flash flood and Cyclone Yasi, the Australian Government gave insurance companies twelve months to settle. Oh, no no we couldn’t do that said the New Zealand companies, as it would be unrealistic. And perhaps then it was unrealistic, given that 22 February and its N.Z.$35 billion (then about U.S.$30 billion) in damages had yet to happen and that the Japan earthquake and tsunami with its U.S.$235 billion in attendant claims was also still to come. Likewise the 13 June 2011 aftershocks, which caused another several billion dollars in damage claims.
Perhaps it was unrealistic given EQC suddenly had to grow its staff nearly 50 fold from about 22 to over 1,000 after the 22 February 2011 quakes. I am sure not all of those staff received adequate training. I am sure many felt like they had been thrown in at the deep end – which they probably had, and not helped by their own properties being in not such good shape themselves. Perhaps it was something that EQC was just simply not designed to handle.
But that was then. The quakes tapered off in early 2012, and the last magnitude 5.0+ was in May 2012. This is five years after the quakes started and some of these claims are STILL not settled. All of this nonsense about insurance companies just needing a bit more information has become a bureaucratic exercise in sanity testing. And yet I.A.G. which has companies like A.M.I. and State under its umbrella continue to drag the chains through long since dried mounds of liquefaction. Why? Because they can.